- by Charles Komanoff and Michael Smith
New York City just released its first-ever study of bicycle crashes. There's good news and bad news. The good news is that four City agencies -- health, transportation, parks and police -- admitted, finally, that bicycling is good for New York City, and pledged to expand the City's cycling infrastructure. The study also didn't indulge in the NYPD's habitual victim-blaming in cycling fatalities -- a significant though unacknowledged shift.
But here's the bad news: The study has many methodological flaws and misleading "findings," leading it to over-emphasize helmets and bike lanes and neglect the need for universal street safety. And the study completely neglects the fact that most fatal crashes are caused by aggressive, self-entitled drivers, and laissez-faire policing that allows motorists to literally get away with murder.
The study attributes 42% of all fatal bike-vehicle crashes to "bicycle factors," 20% to "vehicle factors" (i.e., drivers), and 36% jointly to both cyclists and drivers (another 2-3% of cases couldn't be coded). That's an improvement from the NYPD's made-up "statistic" that 75-80% of biking fatalities are solely the cyclists' fault. But it's still deeply misleading.
One of us (Komanoff) had the opportunity to review the NYPD's cause-coding for three of the years studied (1996-98), and found them rife with errors. In one case, a driver ran a red light and struck and killed a cyclist proceeding lawfully through an intersection; NYPD gave the cause as "Bike Thru Red Traffic Signal Light And Struck By Vehicle" and actually assigned a Bike Factor of "Traffic Control Disregarded." In another case, a cyclist was crushed when a Mack truck made a right turn, from the cyclist's left, directly into his path. NYPD said, "Unsafe Bike Operator Turned Into Vehicle And Was Struck By Turning Vehicle" and assigned a Bike Factor of "Unsafe Lane Changing."
In all, Komanoff found that only 20% of the fatal bike-vehicle crashes could be attributed to "bicycle factors" (vs. the City's 42%), while 44% were the exclusive result of "vehicle factors" (vs. the City's 20%). The remaining 36% were the fault of both cyclists and drivers (the same as the City's tally). In effect, the City's "cause" factors invert reality.
(The rest of the article: <a href="http://www.rightofway.org/littera-scripta/bikestudy.html">http://www.rightofway.org/littera-scripta/bikestudy.html</a>)